Sunday, November 6, 2016

Hannah More and the Women of Rank and Fortune

After a hiatus of nearly five years, during which time Tarquin Tar's Bookcase was in abeyance to make way for the arrival of first one child and then a second, as well as three moves, I felt it was time to get things started again. Posts will likely be less often than once per week, but I will endeavor to keep at least some life flowing through this blog from time to time.

This week's book was chosen in light of the impending election of the first woman President of the United States. Hannah More (1745-1833) was a famed English educator, reformer, and social activist, perhaps best known for being a leader in the abolitionist movement. In addition to her political writings, More was an accomplished poet and -- early in her life -- dramatist. As a Christian Evangelical, her view of women's place in society differed from that of other early feminists, who argued for the equality of men and women. Rather, More articulated a vision of women's place in society that saw them as qualitatively different from men, but also critiqued the patriarchal society of her England for failing to appropriately and effectively make it possible for women to occupy that place.

More's Strictures on the Modern System of Female Education, with a View of the Principles and Conduct Prevalent Among Women of Rank and Fortune was first published in 1799 by T. Cadell, Junior, and W. Davies in London and by William Porter and P. Wogan in Dublin. This was followed by editions in 1800 in London and Dublin again, as well as in Philadelphia (1800), Charlestown, Massachusetts (1800), and beyond. Its popularity can be measured by its recurrent publication throughout the nineteenth century. My copy is the first New York edition, published as two volumes bound into one by Evert Duyckinck and printed by George Long. Duyckinck (1764?-1833), whose office was at 102 Pearl Street in New York City, was the father of the better known Evert Augustus Duyckinck, a prominent publisher and leader in the nationalist Young America Movement. George Long was an accomplished New York printer who routinely worked for Duyckinck (the two were evidently good friends: in 1828, Duyckinck named his second son, George Long Duyckinck).

The importance of More's Strictures is best explained by Anne K. Mellor, in "Hannah More, Revolutionary Reformer", in "Women, Morality, and Advice Literature" (Adam Matthew Publications, 2016):

Fundamental to Hannah More’s project of social revolution was a transformation of the role played by woman of all classes in the formation of national culture. Unlike Mary Wollstonecraft, who argued that the two sexes were in all significant aspects the same, Hannah More insisted on the innate difference between the sexes. To women she assigns a greater delicacy of perception and feeling and above all, a greater moral purity and capacity for virtue. Men on the other hand have better judgement, based on their wider experience of the public world; at the same time their manners are coarse, with “rough angles and asperities” (VI : 266). If a “revolution in manners” is to occur, then, it must be carried out by women.

But first women must be educated to understand their proper function in society. More’s Strictures on the Modern System of Female Education (1799) lays out her program for the education of “excellent women” (III : 200): a systematic development of the innate female capacity for virtue and piety through a judicious reading of the Bible, devotional tracts and serious literature, extended by rational conversation and manifested in the active exercise of compassion and generosity. The goal of More’s educational project for woman is no less than a cultural redefinition of female virtue. As summed up in that “pattern daughter … [who] will make a pattern wife,” Lucilla Stanley, the heroine of More’s novel, Coelebs in Search of a Wife (1808: 246), female virtue is equated with rational intelligence, modesty and chastity, a sincere commitment to spiritual values and the Christian religion, an affectionate devotion to one’s family, active service on behalf of one’s community, and an insistence on keeping promises. More’s concept of female virtue thus stands in stark contrast to the prevailing cultural definition of the ideal woman as one who possessed physical beauty and numerous accomplishments and who could effectively entice a man of substance into marriage.

More’s concept of female virtue also stands in opposition to the prevailing masculine concept of virtue as “devotion to the public good,” and “the practice … of relations of equality between citizens” could no longer be reconciled with the “ideals” of commerce which required an exchange between non-equals, credit and dependence. Hence masculine “virtue” was redefined as the possession of property and “the practice and refinement of polished manners,” manners which would engage the trust and credit of like-minded men of property (Pocock 41-8). This specifically male “commercial humanism” seemed to More to be soul-less and mechanistic, substituting the form of good manners for the substance. Female virtue was not a matter of credit and exchange but rather a matter of spiritual conviction, sincere compassion for the welfare of others, humility and self-sacrifice.

Embedded in More’s program for the education of women was a new career for middle-class women, namely, a sustained and increasingly institutionalised effort to relieve the sufferings of the less fortunate. As Lucilla Stanley’s mother defines this career: “Charity is the calling of a lady; the care of the poor is her profession”(Coelebs 138; More’s italics). More here conceptualises for the first time the career of what we would now call the “social worker,” the organised and corporate - as opposed to the spontaneous and individualistic - practice of philanthropy. As exemplified by Lucilla Stanley, this profession involves spending one day each week collecting “necessaries” for the poor - food, clothing, medicine - and two evenings each week visiting them in their own cottages where she can best determine “their wants and their characters” (Coelebs 63).
In her Strictures on Female Education, More advocates a more institutionalised philanthropy, a “regular systematical good” resulting in a “broad stream of bounty … flowing through and refreshing whole districts” (Strictures III 270). She urges her women readers to participate actively in the organisation of voluntary benevolent societies and in the foundation of hospitals, orphanages, Sunday Schools and all-week charity or “ragged” schools for the education and relief of the poor. And her call was heard: literally thousands of voluntary societies sprang up in the opening decades of the nineteenth century to serve the needs of every imaginable group of sufferers, from the Bristol Orphan Asylum to the Sailors Home, from the Poor Printers Fund to the Pensioners at Wrington, to name only four among the 71 charities to which More herself contributed generously in her will.

The book is 10.5cm x 17.5cm, bound in leather, and is paginated ix, 124 (vol. 1); 130 (vol. 2). There are no apparent errors in pagination, composition, or the sequencing of gatherings. Some of the inking looks like it was done rather hurriedly, but overall it's a well produced book.

On the title-page, a small, elegant hand has written in ink, "Adeline P. Rockwell. 1821." There seems to be only one person who fits the name and date parameters of this inscription: Adeline P. Rockwell was the daughter of Joel Peabody, lived in New Hampshire, and died in 1890. (Another Adeline Rockwell, daughter of James Rockwell and Anna Miner of Connecticut, was born in 1816, so may have been too young to make her the owner of the book). The only other marginalia are in Volume 2, Chapter 16 ("On dissipation, and the modern habit of fashionable life"), where a pencil line is drawn alongside passages refuting the charge that reading literature weakens women's minds and morals (p. 64), defending the practice of pursuing pleasurable activities only in moderation (p. 66), and arguing against the habit of men who choose their wives as if they were picking out a painting to hang in their houses ("the picture being passive, he is able to fix it there" but women are "not become private property"; "women are not mere portraits, their value not being determinable by a glance of the eye") (p. 69).

As I flip through my copy of More's Strictures, I can't help but imagine what she would have thought of the possibility that a woman is likely going to become the leader of the most powerful nation in the world -- or what she would have made of the gross and demeaning insults and flat lies, and the crude, sexist, and misogynistic attacks that Hillary Clinton has suffered as a result of her lifelong commitment to serving her country while being, also, a woman.

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